Cape Town is a city of huge contradictions. In recent years it has deservingly become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world because of it’s incredible natural beauty, electric culture and the amazing range of outdoor activities it is home to. However, despite its increasing popularity as a dream destination for travelers, it still faces huge social problems and like a lot of other African cities, it is ranked highly on the global list of most dangerous places to visit.
It is an undeniable fact that crime is a reality in South Africa. However, it is also important to recognize that both tourists and locals alike are very rarely affected by it in Cape Town, if they act responsibly and have the knowledge to make informed decisions. As well as this, it is necessary to be aware that things can often be generalized and over simplified by the media, and the safety of Cape Town as a holiday destination is certainly no exception to this rule.
Why does Cape Town have a bad reputation?
For most travellers preparing to explore a new and unfamiliar destination, some level of anxiety is expected. However, if you ask first time visitors to South Africa what their view of the country is, for the most part you will hear responses that focus on the negative aspects of life. The main reason for this is the media’s portrayal of South Africa as a violent and dangerous place; this was certainly the case 20 years ago towards the end of the Apartheid regime. However, recent reports that have been published not only fail to recognise that the crime statistics in Cape Town today are lower than some major western cities around the world, but also incidents of violent crime have reduced since the end of the regime in 1994.
It is also important to emphasize the fact that the majority of violent crimes that take place in Cape Town are between gang members, tribes and people who know each other. Tourists are not the target of these crimes that mostly occur outside of the city in the townships, which are a harsh legacy of the Apartheid era. Take for example one area of Cape Town, Nyanga (a township), where 1% of the city’s population live, but 13% of the murders occur each year. Compare this with another area, Simon's Town, which hosts over one million visitors a year, but has not had one murder reported in the same time frame. The dark statistics reported by the media do not reflect this at all.
What safety strategies have been implemented in Cape Town to reduce incidents of crime?
When exploring the issue of safety in Cape Town, it is necessary to bring to attention the fantastic initiatives the government have recently implemented to help improve the safety of the general public. There are now security guards patrolling most areas of the city on a regular basis, and small security huts have been erected on every other street corner. There are armed response teams in every neighbourhood of the city and they are on call 24 hours a day. Cape Town tourism has also implemented a ‘Safety and support plan’ as well as a ‘Visitors' support programme’ which simultaneously work together to prevent incidents of crime. Hundreds of CCTV cameras have also been installed around all of the major attractions, like the V&A Waterfront where over 800 cameras are now operational.
How can I stay safe as a tourist in Cape Town?
The recent safety initiatives that have been implemented in Cape Town have contributed to a decline in incidents of crime in many neighbourhoods. However, despite this, it is important to be aware that like in many other major cities around the world, tourists are often a target of petty crimes such as pick pocketing. Therefore, it is crucial to always be vigilant, use your intuition and take certain precautions.
Here are a few tips on how to stay safe in Cape Town:
→ Remember that when you are drunk you are more vulnerable. Most incidents of theft and muggings happen to people when they are under the influence of alcohol. We advise that you always go out with at least one other person, you never leave your bags unattended, and you only use taxi’s after dark.
→ In general don’t walk around anywhere at night. Other than walking between restaurants and bars in busy areas, it is much safer to take a taxi after dark because that is when you are more likely to be a target of pickpockets. The areas which are safe to explore by foot at night include; the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay, Somerset Road in Sea Point and Kloof Street.
→ When drawing cash it is a good idea to only use ATM’s in shopping malls. These ATM’s are always under surveillance by security guards which reduces the risk of fraud occurring.
→ When paying for the bill at a restaurant, or purchasing items in the super market, be extra vigilant with your bank card. Do not let the staff take it so it is out of your sight; always ask to go with them.
→ Don’t be flashy with your belongings. It is advisable to leave your expensive jewellery at home and always carry your camera in a bag rather than around your neck- this will reduce the risk of you being a target of petty theft.
→ Avoid certain areas. The townships which line the outskirts of the city are not safe to explore on your own under any circumstances.
→ Don’t leave any valuables in your car if you park it on the street during the night. This helps prevents break-ins which are quite a common occurrence in Cape Town.
→ Use universal common sense. Being vigilant of your belongings, making sure your bag is zipped up and never walking alone at night are all rules to go by when visiting any major city around the world. It is no different in Cape Town!
What are Bridging Gaps safety policies?
At Bridging Gaps the safety and happiness of our interns and volunteers is our number one priority. We want to ensure that throughout your adventure you feel comfortable, confident and at home so that you can enjoy all the incredible things Cape Town has to offer. Here are some of the measures we have in place to ensure you have the most fulfilling and safe trip possible:
→ We guide you through all your pre-trip preparations and provide you with a detailed information pack which contains everything you need to know about visiting Cape Town.
→ Our Bridging Gaps team will meet you at the airport when you first arrive in Cape Town. We will be standing in the arrivals hall holding a board with your name on it and once we have welcomed you to the Mother City, we will take you back to your accommodation and make sure you have everything you need to settle in for your first night in Cape Town.
→ Upon arrival you will receive a phone with a local sim card to ensure you are able to contact your family back home as soon as you arrive.
→ You will also be provided with both Lucie and Julian’s personal cell phone numbers, as well as the Bridging Gaps emergency phone number. We are your 24 hour on the ground contacts throughout your time in Cape Town and we are happy to help with anything you need. We also both live very centrally so are never more than a short walk away from anywhere our interns or volunteers are staying.
→ You will also be provided with an emergency contact card which we advise you carry on you at all times. This includes the contact details of the emergency services, all the reputable tour companies we have partnerships with, and the taxi and public transport companies we recommend.
→ In the first few days of you being in Cape Town we will arrange a comprehensive orientation with you. This will include a walking tour of the city, visits to the main shopping malls and a demonstration of how everything works! It will also involve an extensive health and safety briefing.
→ One of our Bridging Gaps team members will take you to your first day of your internship or volunteer placement to introduce you to your supervisor and colleagues. We will then accompany you each day until you are 100% happy either walking or taking the public transport route on your own.
→ We stay in regular contact with you to not only make sure that you are enjoying and learning from your placement, but to ensure you are happy with every other aspect of your Cape Town adventure. If you are unsure about how to do anything, where to go or how to get anywhere, we are always available to assist you!
→ During our weekly social events we will take you to some of the best markets, restaurants, festivals and events that Cape Town has to offer! We have no doubt that you will make some amazing friends whilst you are here, but if you are ever nervous about doing anything or going anywhere on your own, our social events are the perfect time to explore this incredibly city with like minded people.
Other dangers in Cape Town
Although it may seem like a trivial topic to focus on when talking about the dangers of visiting Cape Town, but trust us, the strength of the sun can certainly get you into trouble if it is not taken seriously! The UV index in Cape Town is consistently high all year round, reaching 9 or 10 most days during the summer months. Compare this to the UK which only ever reaches 8 on the hottest days of the year, and it might give you some indication of the factor of sun cream you need here!
When exploring Cape Town’s stunning natural landscapes it is essential to pack sun cream, a hat and plenty of water. This is especially true if you want to enjoy one of the abundant hiking trails scattered all over the Western Cape. However, there is another risk when hiking through the Cape’s many nature reserves, and that is the frequent change in weather conditions that can happen. Cape Town is famous for having 4 seasons in one day and this can be dangerous, if you are half way up Table Mountain and an unexpected low pressure cloud engulfs you. To avoid any risky situations when hiking in the Cape, it is advisable that you:
- Always check the weather before embarking on a hike.
- Dress appropriately and take plenty of water
- Always hike in groups of 2 or more
- Ensure one member of the group has a fully charged, working phone.
- Make sure you tell someone where you are going.
Although there are no required vaccinations to come to Cape Town, it is important that you consult your doctor before you travel, because Hepatitis A, B and Typhoid are often recommended. Cape Town is not a malaria zone so there is no need to take any precautions against it.
Although Cape Town has one of the lowest AIDS statistics in the whole country, it is important to be aware that South Africa has the largest number of HIV+ people in the world. The virus is not airborne and can only be transmitted through certain bodily fluids so you are at no risk of being infected if you take the correct precautions.
The medical facilitates in Cape Town are excellent and there are 38 medical centres in total, both private and public. As a visitor to Cape Town it is advisable you always use private facilities where possible.
We drive on the left hand side of the road in Cape Town and the roads are generally in good condition and well sign posted. Although the standard of driving is a lot better than in many other African cities, it is important to always be extremely vigilant on the roads and treat all other drivers with caution. This is especially true of mini bus taxis which drive very aggressively and in general pay no attention to the rules of the road. The main highways in Cape Town are well patrolled by the police, but it is important to note that during peak traffic times there are designated lanes which are reserved only for public transport.
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